Michael Bailey: My promotion chat and top-flight warning with a former City keeper
- Credit: Tony Thrussell
In his weekly column, Norwich City correspondent Michael Bailey talks national gaze and the Premier League prize with someone who has been there and done it at Carrow Road – Robert Green.
We all know the journey Norwich City have been on these past two years – and it seems everyone now wants to tell it.
Asking us when we started to believe this could be a very special season for the Canaries, would probably offer up a myriad of answers: from numerous late equalisers to the early-season comeback at Nottingham Forest or annihilating Swansea on their own pitch.
Perhaps even now, you still not dare to believe until it actually happens.
For most of the national press, it was just before Good Friday – each paper setting off a journalist with the instructions: Norwich look like going up, find out what’s been going on.
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And so our tale has been told to a wider audience but with all the same themes we know and love; a narrative that will now almost certainly reintroduce Norwich City Football Club to the Premier League – and all the usual pros and cons that come with it.
Welcoming them back will be some familiar faces too, possibly including one man who knows exactly what the current squad is going through – and hopefully they manage the same outcome.
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City youth product. Former England goalkeeper. He has even had a spell at Leeds. Robert Green was also a second-tier title winner with the Canaries back in 2004, of course – the culmination of years growing up with City.
Norwich’s progress hasn’t been lost on their former number one, now third-choice goalkeeper at Premier League giants Chelsea – a one-year contract that may yet earn an extension given the Blues’ current transfer embargo.
“I’ve had two of my old clubs up there so it’s been interesting to watch,” said Green, as we sat down for a brief chat in the capital.
“We’ve got so many games here that you have your fill of football in some respects, but I’ve seen some of the games and they’ve been playing some fantastic football – up to the last couple of weeks when it’s all got a bit tense.
“But I think they are pretty much there and if they can enjoy their last couple of games with them finishing top and their rivals finishing bottom, they can’t really get much better than that can they?”
Ipswich’s plight has certainly added to a heady Norfolk mix in the Championship – and it probably takes growing up in Norwich to really get its implications.
Perhaps Green’s previous season at Huddersfield Town – their first in the Premier League before it all unravelled this campaign – also gives the former West Ham man a little extra insight into why things have gone so well at Carrow Road in the past two years.
After all, it’s hard to imagine all memories of the Terriers’ previous football operations director ended with his departure for Norwich back in April 2017.
“I don’t think he’s got a lot of credit for it but I’d imagine Stuart Webber has worked minor miracles there,” offered Green.
“He’s followed a formula of getting a relatively unknown coach in from Germany, relative unknown players from around Europe, and got them playing fantastic football.
“I sat having dinner with my mate who doesn’t live in Norwich any more but is a Norwich fan and goes to a lot of the games, and he was saying he’d never heard of some of these players – and then they have come in and been fantastic; they’re playing great football.
“It’s not dissimilar to what Huddersfield did a couple of years ago when Stuart Webber was there, so he’s clearly got a way of doing things.
“People move on in football and James Maddison has moved on to do really good things at Leicester, so it works in both regards. You use those funds to get players in and stuff like that, but behind it you’ve got experience.
“You look at the guys who aren’t even getting in the team – there is great experience there and stuff you can rely on.
“It’s not just about the players who have stolen the limelight this season but between Webber and the manager, they will be absolutely thrilled with how it has all worked out. They have stolen a march on everyone in that regard.”
Studying a business degree and with enough football love to keep his career ticking over at the age of 39, you wonder whether following in Webber’s career footsteps might be tempting.
“I don’t know – I’ve always said the thing about football and managerial experiences is you’re relying on 11 people like me to keep you in a job, and I wouldn’t want to do that in front of anyone,” smiled Green.
“Where you feel like you could make a sense of change in a cultural or bigger sense is something that appeals to me, and if that is involved in football then maybe. More so than the direct tactics and on field stuff.”
Norwich haven’t quite sealed the deal yet, of course. Which is where Blackburn’s visit on Saturday night comes in.
But in truth, whoever makes the step up will need to digest the realities of the new Premier League situation, especially given the way City have tackled – and scaled –the Championship.
“You look at the parameters of signings that people make, and the money you get doesn’t equate to as much as people spend now,” admitted Green.
“You can say it’s worth whatever number that people state to get promoted, but Fulham spent all that and it didn’t get them the quality that they needed.
“You’re looking at guys now who are costing upwards of £100m. At the top end, to win the Premier League you get, say £150m-200m – and then you go and spend it on one player?
“It’s harder now than ever and you look at Huddersfield last season. It was a bit of a miracle – and it was off the back of seven points from their first three games. You need to hit the ground running really.
“Look at this season. For all intents and purposes Cardiff could go down, Wolves spent big money to get out of the Championship and then big money to stay in the Premier League, and they have done brilliantly this season – but they’ve spent that money, and Cardiff have not spent as much.
“Fulham have spent it but not bought the quality that they needed. And you end with Huddersfield again, who just can’t compete.
“So it’s really tough now. Probably tougher than ever.”
In some ways and for different reasons, that was also the sentiment in which Norwich City took on this season’s Championship campaign – tougher than ever – and in that case they should earn everyone’s trust, just like their story has earned everyone’s respect.
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